Yevgeny Prigozhin is the head of the Russian private army Wagner Group. © Uncredited/AP/dpa
In Russia, criticism of its own conduct of the war is growing. It is not only Wagner boss Prigozhin who presents himself as a critic of the Kremlin. For the first time, a member of parliament from the ruling party is publicly accusing the power apparatus of failure.
Moscow - With criticism of a "chaotic" warfare against Ukraine, the head of the Russian private army Wagner, Yevgeny Prigozhin, is putting increasing pressure on the Kremlin. In view of the border region of Belgorod, which has been under artillery fire for days, he is now even threatening to invade his mercenaries if the Ministry of Defense does not "quickly" establish order there. "There is chaos in the ministry," Prigozhin said on Saturday. In the 15-month war of aggression against Ukraine, Russia has already suffered numerous setbacks.
"A conquest of the area is already underway there," Prigozhin said of the fighting in Belgorod. "Peaceful people are dying." The population needs protection. "We're not going to wait for an invitation." However, the Russian military must provide ammunition. "Otherwise, as they say, we'll be sitting on the frost with our bare asses." The region has been under artillery fire from the Ukrainian side for days. Villages had to be evacuated. The authorities had children taken to safe areas.
Prigozhin increasingly portrays himself as a critic of the Kremlin
No one in Russia dares to speak such harsh words as Prigozhin, who is increasingly portraying himself as a critic of the Kremlin. Members of the opposition who make similar statements are either in prison camps, living in exile abroad - or dead. The difference to other Russians who find themselves in the prison camp when criticizing the "special military operation" - as the war in Russia is called: The 62-year-old is a confidant of President Vladimir Putin. Unlike real opponents of the Kremlin, he never questions the Kremlin chief himself. This is probably why it is allowed to act as a "valve".
Not everyone likes this: Last week, Chechen ruler Ramzan Kadyrov's Akhmat army unit said that Prigozhin was tarnishing the army's reputation. This is punishable by high penalties in Russia. It was also said that the head of the mercenary troop Wagner should keep his "face". Akhmat fighters also threatened him with violence. But after a phone call with Kadyrov, Prigozhin declared settled on Saturday. However, he does not allow himself to be silenced. For him, it is important that the army fulfills its tasks with dignity and pride - and does not degenerate into a system of "salivation, fawning and irresponsibility".
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The Wagner boss reiterated that he was sticking to his complaint to the Prosecutor General's Office against the ministry because many of his fighters had been killed in the battle for the eastern Ukrainian city of Bakhmut due to a lack of ammunition deliveries. Prigozhin has withdrawn his mercenaries there to hand over Bakhmut to the control of regular Russian forces. On Sunday, he was forced to admit that Ukrainian forces had resumed positions in the city - a triumph for Kyiv, a new disaster for Moscow, observers commented on social networks.
But Prigozhin's criticism is also repeatedly directed against parts of the Kremlin. The attempt to sow discord between Kadyrov's troops and the Wagner army is a "dangerous game". Regarding the course of the war, he said: "We did not open Pandora's box." He agreed with Kadyrov that Russia needed a general mobilization and martial law for a victory against Ukraine. So far, the Kremlin has refused to do so, but the pressure is increasing.
Public criticism is on the rise
Public criticism of the conduct of the war is growing because Moscow's troops have no military successes against the resistance of the Ukrainian armed forces. This bounces off the Kremlin and the Ministry of Defence: silence, sitting out is the motto. Prominent MP Konstantin Zatulin of the ruling United Russia party lamented last week at a conference on "What kind of Ukraine do we need?" Mistakes of Moscow and a failure across the board.
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The "special military operation" should have been called a "war" from the very beginning, Zatulin said. It was a miscalculation to be able to win the war within a few days. Not a single war goal issued by the Kremlin has been implemented: neither a demilitarization of Ukraine, nor its neutrality, nor better protection of the people of Donbass. "In which of the points did we achieve a result? Not a single one," Satulin said. He sees the Kremlin's entire foreign policy at an impasse.
Satulin dares harsh criticism
So far, no member of the pro-Kremlin parliament has made such harsh criticism public. However, Zatulin is in line with the Kremlin in that he supports the war in principle. He calls for a national effort to win the fight. The deputy also answered in the affirmative to the question of whether Ukraine will survive as a state. "Because our forces are not enough to prevent this - with such support that it receives," he said, referring to Western aid to Ukraine.
From the point of view of political scientist Abbas Gallyamov, who is critical of the Kremlin, a feeling of powerlessness is spreading in Russia. In view of the fighting in Belgorod on the border with Ukraine, people understand that Putin's system offers no protection. Everyone now sees the weakness of Putin's army. People felt betrayed in believing in Russia's invincibility. "In an authoritarian society, strength is valued and weakness is despised," says Gallyamov. This would fuel "revolutionary tendencies". Dpa